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Archive for December, 2012

Nice Surprises

January 1st, 2013 at 02:34 am

**2012 was like the fastest year ever. Holy Cow!! I can not believe it is the 31st!

**I glanced at the stock market today, on my phone, but apparently didn't let it refresh. I was bummed to see numbers down.

So I was *shocked* when I updated Quicken and saw my stocks were up a bit. Woohoo!!

Net Worth $300k+ Official!!

**I stopped by my CU on the way home thinking I might be able to deposit my check and move things around today or tomorrow. Closed early. Not surprised, but BUMMER!

Wednesday I will add $1000 to ROTH (2013 contribution), pay off TV, and pay off AmEx balance. I would have done the pay offs today, otherwise. The ROTH would have waited, though I guess I could have scheduled it. I won't schedule anything until the money is in my account, to be on the safe side. So it all waits for Wednesday...

**I got the natural gas (heating) bill and cringed before I looked at it. It included about 5 solid days of extra heat for the snake. The bill was for 30% less usage than last year. HA!! I suppose I won't worry about it. I can look at our electric consumption mostly in real time. I don't see that Mr. Snake's heat lamp is utilizing any huge amount of energy. But we have been running the gas heat about 12-14 hours a day for him. We have had him for about 11 days, and have about 9 days left.

Why is gas 30% lower!?! I have just been cutting back on heat usage slowly every year. This year I suppose I am cutting back even more (None of the boys in my house use much heat - but they tend to run the AC more than I, in summer). I also think our new couch has a lot to do with it. It is my "relaxing" place, but is a colder area of the house - right by big windows. The windows have thermal drapes and all that, but I will turn the heat on far more on a lazy couch day than otherwise. I had no idea a couch could save us so much energy!! It's warm and cozy and I think is a large reason I have turned on the heat far less than usual.

I do not like programmable thermostats *at all.* So much of it seems to depend on so many varying circumstances. If the air is extra cold and I am extra sensitive to it, sometimes I turn on the heat to 70 or 72. Other days it will be 60 and I won't even be wearing slippers or socks. The thermostat never tells the whole story. I think the biggest change we have made over the years is to flip it on when we need it, and not to look at the numbers so much. Apparently we haven't hit bottom; still on a downward trend of less energy usage.

The lower bill was definitely a nice surprise!

**We've got about 4 hours until our medical deductible resets for the new year. I am holding my breath a bit! Would be the first year in 5 years(?) that we did not max out deductible? Yeah right - I will believe it when I see it. 4 more hours!! (Dh and the kids are doing dangerous activities - driving home 2 hours in the dark - they were with family while I was at work today. But they are going to try to be home on the early side, before the drunk drivers take over the roads. I think they probably should have just stayed, but dh really wants to be home. Driving home early was the compromise).

Secondarily, we are also on a "January surgery" streak. So if no one has surgery next month, we will definitely celebrate. Last year wasn't us, but MIL did have surgery in January. It's been a thing with us lately...

**The kids had a fun week. They spent a lot of time with their grandparents. The #1 thing I hear while the kids are gone is how they can EAT! I am well aware. Wink I am sure I am saving a fortune this week, on food. The kids went one at a time and were delighting in alone time with both us and with the grandparents. Dh drove to San Jose 4 or 5 times this month. Rolleyes Could have met half way, but other stuff was going on each time he drove down. I paid a fraction for gas all month (coupons), so we didn't go over the gas budget. I guess it works out. We generally don't drive down there much during tax season. Can rest the cars for a few months. Except I am going to San Francisco and San Jose next week, my self. But nothing planned after that?

2012 Was Prosperous

December 30th, 2012 at 03:33 pm

I've already talked about all of this, but will do one final 2012 wrap up.

Net Worth

Cash: +$5,000
Investments: +$32,000
Home Value: +$65,000
Mortgage Debt: -$6,000

Total Net Worth: +$108,000

I have failed on my net worth goals the past 4 years, but this almost makes up for all those years. (Real estate had plummeted those years, only to rebound to 2007 levels in the current year). Going forward, still have a goal to increase net worth by "50% of our expenses" on an annual basis. (This year, $108,000, is almost "200% of expenses" - which covers goal for past 4 years, and makes up for some bad real estate years).

Oh, and as of today our net worth is about exactly $300,000. Depends how the stock market does on Monday...

ETA: Officially ended the year at $300k!!

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Income

Income was *awesome* this year.

--A solid $2800 in credit card rewards (tax-free)
--$6,500 overtime (it helped that no one was in the hospital this year!)
--$1,000 in amazon and craigslist sales
--smaller amounts of bank interest and focus group money
--Cash gifts galore (tax-free)

The interesting thing is that this year we surpassed our prior two-salary income level (when you count all the extra in-flows). But it is not apples to oranges in the least. You will notice how much of the extra this year was tax-free. This means we blew our "two income take-home" completely out of the water, this year. I share because the one-income thing for us has always been about "working smarter, not harder." The linear idea that we literally live on "half as much" has always been completely ridiculous.

I know we are extremely blessed to receive some nice cash gifts this year. I also know we made excellent use of the windfalls (extra payments to the mortgage, bulked up cash, sped up ROTH contributions, visited aging grandparents, etc.).

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Expenses

As far as the monthly expenses, we are a well-oiled machine. Money to savings first. Live on the rest. As such, there is little variability to the sum of all our monthly expenses. (There may be give and take between categories).

The less predictable expenses varied more (some come from savings, from extras, etc.). BUT, I already noted that we didn't spend any more money in 2012 than 2011. I find that fascinating since we were able to buy and do so much.

The variable expenses breakdown:

--Dining Out - spent $600 less

--Home Repairs - spent $1,000 more (versus about -0- in 2011)

--Medical - spent $2,000 less (no surgery!!)

--Misc. - spent $4,000 more
(New dishwasher, new garage door opener, a bed for LM, new couch, new smart phones, new TV - feeling the prosperity - some long overdue purchases here. I couldn't fathom buying anything large next year, in comparison, if we fulfilled several years worth of waiting and wants in 2012)

--Mortgage interest - Spent $2,000 less (thanks to lower interest rates!)

--Piano lessons - Spent $1,000 less because in-laws decided to pay all year

--Vacation - Spent $2,000 more (due to gifts, and status of aging grandparents we intended to visit)


**Consistent expenses:

--Auto (fuel, insurance maintenance)

--Groceries (almost to the penny)

--Insurance

--Utilities (traded cable for smart phones)

--Mortgage principal (paid same amount as last year)

--allowance, clothing, gifts, gym/aerobics, HOA, gardener, haircuts, sports, Christmas

--The rest of our misc. expenses (not big purchases) were pretty consistent. Further details: script software for dh (after he finished his first script, ironically - he used free software for his script), watches for kids, toothbrush heads, hair clips, movies, SA meetup expenses, concerts, events (robot wars), blu ray burner, camera accessories, CDs to burn, birthday party/gifts for kids, swim goggles, school supplies, pet supplies (litter boxes), piano tuning, bowling, golfland, online backups. This stuff is just all too small for its own category; largely where we put any purchases or any entertainment.

On the expense side, there is room for improvement. If we hadn't done all the extras, you see we have room to trim expenses. This year reminded me of lower income years when it seems luck went our way and we did not spend large sums on home repairs and medical bills and such. To be fair, we had an emergency room visit, a broken heater, and had to replace a dishwasher and spent a fair amount on our garage door, and I think we drove to San Jose MANY times when Grandma was in the hospital, on and on. BUT, it didn't seem to come from all sides/all year like it had been doing in recent years. Phew!! For one, it made all the difference not to miss work because one of us was having surgery! I am still working on decreasing overall spending for next year. IT's give and take because I wouldn't be surprised if we had some large vet bills and appliance replacements in 2013. But, if we don't, it could be a decent year to decrease our overall expenses.

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I have no idea what to expect for 2013! I know we will be losing $130/month with the payroll tax holiday ending.

I know our income taxes will be going up, and we could possibly stuck with AMT too.

I know our health insurance and property taxes are going up significantly.

I don't know if I will receive any raise.

So, more to ponder once January shakes out. Too many unknowns in the immediate future - I hope to get some tax and salary clarification in the next week or two.

We also have absolutely *nothing* on the purchase horizon, but the cat is getting old, our cars are getting old, and so is our fridge and hot water heater. These are the predictable nearer-future expenses.

This & That

December 29th, 2012 at 04:56 pm

**Survived hell week, though it wasn't so bad. I did work last weekend, but also missed quite a few days of work before that - feeling under the weather. I've felt many years in the past I improved and simplified with my own more efficient approach to year-end tax stuff. This year was just more of the same - plus able to anticipate much after 11 years of this. Phew!! All the work I was able to do ahead of time paid off.

I was going to work today, but changed my mind late last night. Trade-off is I will have to go in very early Monday. As the year-end work is not all done yet. But I only have *one* client who is working on Monday. We will be done well before noon. & maybe I can leave early if I get in early. Getting through the last 2 weeks of the year with no overtime (Except to make up sick time) is totally *insane.* I think this mostly speaks to improvements in technology in recent years. Plus, the bad economy is some of it. (Many of my clients had no profits to pay out and no taxes to minimize with last minute planning). Though that seems to be turning around. Two of my big clients did have profits, but they also had huge prior year losses to offset - so no taxes. Phew!!

I am so ecstatic to have a peaceful weekend. Plus I do get Jan. 1 off. I also have a couple of days off the following week for a school field trip, but other than that, tax season is in FULL force. Time to earn some overtime. So, why I am so happy I don't feel like I have to work this weekend. Next week will mostly be the calm before the storm. & I am definitely working next weekend so I can take a couple of days off mid-week.

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**I have enough info to do my taxes at this point. BUT, waiting to see how the AMT patch shakes out. Last I looked, we would owe $500 AMT. I am hoping that goes away. !!! {Since our taxable income is low to begin with, this $500 is quite a chunk of change compared to our usual tax bill}.

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Christmas was WONDERFUL. No drama Christmas. How did that happen??? Actually, there was lots of drama leading up to the big day, as always. But, basically, MIL was on her best behavior. So we all had a nice time, for once. Phew!!

I made out very well. My favorite gifts were new bed sheets, and a cookbook that Thriftorama had recommended. It was an Indian slow cooker cookbook. O.M.G. Dh made saag paneer the other night (spinach cheese). We have a new Indian grocer and so just bought the cheese. (Good move!). I do not usually like this dish, but I thought it was A+. Next up is probably chicken vindaloo. Dh seemed a little "eh" on the saag, but is fair since I usually don't like it - it was a little different. Big Grin But, the spices were just far more authentic than any other recipe we have tried. YUM! There is endless more to try - I also got another ethnic slowcooker cookbook (of note, with a lot of Thai recipes). The slowcooker seems to be the magic pill for otherwise *very* complex and time-consuming meals.

{I grew up on home-made Indian food since my best friends were Indian. I know it when it is the real stuff!}

I also received two gift cards. I already used up the Target one for some household items. (I had been needing a toothpaste coupon, but it was on sale and I decided "free" would work). I received a prepaid american express card. Wasn't sure what to do with it, but mymoneyblog mentioned that any amount (no matter how small) could be used to purchase an Amazon gift card. Seemed easiest, so I just did that and credited the gift card to my account. Will likely use it for dh's birthday gift. (Otherwise, I would have just gotten gas with it - usually the easiest way I have found to redeem gift cards - because then leaves no balance. Though I like this amazon tip. How would I ever survive without mymoneyblog.com???).

Buying anything besides a "need" feels ridiculous after the Christmas deluge. I also received a fair amount of useless *stuff.*

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GOALS 2013

I already have my prelimiary goals listed in my sidebar. Nothing overly exciting. Not much thought - just all part of our long-term plan.

BUT, I am also waiting to see how my taxes and compensation shake out for 2013. I can't get too specific until I know what I have to work with. I will know by January 15th (first paycheck of the new year). I am expecting *no raise,* for the first time in my life. (Boo hoo!). My employer primed me for this possibility when he told me last year that I was the only one to receive a raise the past two years. I had no idea!! I know he wants to give me a raise again this year, just not sure if he can. Will see...

As far as the big picture, my focus for 2013 is for our cash and investments to exceed our debt (mortgage). As of today, the gap is exactly $18,000. !! That is the point where I could technically pay off our house and be debt-free. We won't of course do that (most of it is earmarked for retirement), but it is a VERY exciting milestone!

It depends on the stock market, but the savings side is covered. Plus, the mortgage is going down down down with every regular payment. I think it is possible we will pass this threshold mid-year. Will see...

Merry Christmas Eve to Me

December 25th, 2012 at 12:20 am

My last post was long and blah blah blah.

I had disconnected from the fact that I had a large check to deposit - which meant I could cash flow most the rest of our payments before payday (12/31).

I got an e-mail that my deposit (Christmas $$) posted. I suppose I also just figured the CU might be closed today. (I phone deposited the check late last night).

Doings:

**Sent $650 to my ROTH to max out 2012. We are both officially maxed out. Woohoo!!

**Paid mortgage payment +$650.

Plan was to pay more principal than interest on our newest (refinanced) loan - partial year. Paid $5248 principal + $5245 interest. Mission accomplished.

Extra payments on new loan were $2875, year-to-date.

We paid $6,000 of principal in year 2012 (entire year). At current, regular payments are only $300/month to principal.

I do not wait for my payments to post. I know how to calculate the interest and principal. It's paid, I know the numbers; it's done!

{Next year if we add $4,000 in extra payments, more will go to principal than interest (whole year). I think this is doable. This is thanks to the lower interest rate for the entire year}.

**Payday will 90%+ go to savings. I have a couple of small bills set to pay on 12/31.

If I have the cash flow I will pay off AmEx (November charges) and send $1000 to the other AmEx for the TV purchase. Tonight. Just have to check my Quicken checkbook.

I probably do have the cash flow, because I can not send that $1k to the ROTH until January 1.

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I should maybe be doing more festive things, but I am at work crunching numbers for all my clients. Figured I'd give myself some number crunching time too. Wink I am *thrilled* to get all of the above done.

Never Boring

December 24th, 2012 at 08:18 pm

**We have a house guest for the holidays. A classroom pet snake. I suppose if we can keep him alive and well, we might have a couple of more opportunities (school breaks) to house him.

It's been a bit more of an undertaking than I envisioned because he needs to be kept at about 80F degrees, but we generally keep our house about 60F. HA!! BUT, the classroom is pretty darn cold in the a.m. and so we decided on a game plan that most likely mimicked his current setting. Honestly, he might be less shocked moving back to the classroom than if he went to one of those "75F degrees 24/7" households. For one, we decided to just turn off the heat at night, like the school does (& like we usually do). Phew!

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Dh noticed that the placeholder TV he ordered (out of stock so won't ship for another month), well, he noticed that it was in stock online. He wondered aloud what that meant, and the next day I saw the charge pending on the credit card.

So anyway, I knew that the TV shipped before dh did.
& it has already arrived. Well, alrighty then!

So far so good; still haven't decided to do with our two old messed up TVs. Decisions, Decisions...

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Yesterday we made it to a Mythbusters museum exhibit in San Jose. It was so totally COOL!!! We saw all sorts of props from the show, and got to test all sorts of myths they had done. We paid about $90 (paid for my dad to get in), but the experience was priceless. Plus, the rest of the Tech museum is pretty awesome.

If we had played it smarter, we probably should have just gotten a membership. I realized we don't have *any* memberships right now, and I we didn't have a lot of time to see the whole place.

Of course, the whole reason we went to San Jose was for the in-law gift extravaganza. So, there was that, and went out to dinner the last couple of nights. So, $$$$$$. But we definitely had a fun 24 hours or so.

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**Received an unexpected cash gift from the in-laws. They usually give us $1k, and I had already earmarked that for dh's TV. BUT, received another $1k. No firm decisions yet, but most likely will send it to the ROTHs on January 1. Will fund the increased allowable contribution for 2013. ($500 x 2 = $1000).

It was kind of tempting to throw it at the mortgage because it was so utterly unexpected, BUT, I think it is possible that we can max out our ROTHs by May 1. So, I think we are shifting to a more "one at a time" focus. ROTHs first, then cash savings. Extra mortgage payments can be decided at the end of the year, depending on how the year goes. I just don't want to do a big chunk to the mortgage, and then find myself with a huge medical bill the next day. This was always more our approach on two incomes. I feel we can do this approach again, without neglecting anything. We do really well with this kind of a savings plan. (It's just in the past all that money was going to our home - down payment. Cars. Saving to move down to one income. At this point in our lives it is all more long-term wealth building).

Feeling extremely "caught up" on the financial side of things, but next step is "getting ahead of the curve." Of note, funding the ROTHs as early as possible every year. Secondarily, working a little more on liquidity. Which is kind of moot, because if all goes well, most of that will get shifted to the mortgage at some point. Is probably delaying the inevitable a bit, but doing it in a more cautious way. Just because I "save" now doesn't mean I will never put it to the mortgage or invest it. That is precisely where it all usually ends up. We find it is usually better just to take our time and consider the environment and circumstances.

This gift topped off an absurdly prosperous year of extra income. Wow!!

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I've already been running year-end numbers and I find them kind of shocking.

Um, we didn't spend any more money than we did last year. Seriously!

We paid for our first big family vacation *ever.* We bought some furniture that was long overdue to be bought. We replaced several appliances. Dh bought a new TV. On and on and on and on!!

Why did we not spend any more than usual? Significantly lower medical bills this year - phew!!! Our autos were basically maintenance free this year. We saved a pile of mortgage interest by refinancing.

**I spent less money than I have ever spent, on the food and the materilism type stuff. I think I spent less than when I lived on $10k per year.**

The last is not of huge significance because I don't spend that much in the first place. BUT, it made a big difference - more than I would have ever imagined. Our eating out, which is usually virtually not that much, went down by like $500 for the year. ??? I spent a whopping $150 on myself all year (allowance purchases).

HOW!?!

No doubt that the credit card rewards had a lot to do with it (lots of gift cards that could be used in place of cash).

BUT, I think a bigger part was my attitude. I definitely allow myself one lunch out ever week. It is quite often just a dollar menu type thing - not a huge splurge. BUT, when we were planning our big vacation I felt very motivated to pinch pennies for the vacation. I think I just never got out of the pinching penny mode. I was pinching pennies all year, more than usual, because I knew we did so many big splurges.

& so as I think ahead to 2013, I have to keep that same mindset. IT's hard. What I am thinking right now is I haven't had this much cash since we were childless, that we may max out our ROTHs 7 months earlier next year, and that two years in a row we paid some decent extra payments to to our mortgage.

Apparently what I should be thinking is: Fiscal cliff, taxes OMG, health insurance OMG. It's hard for me to be pessimistic, but I think I need to work on it a little more. Not because I am doing badly or should be deprived. But because when I worry about a big expense that I probably can not afford, I end up having the most awesome year ever and being able to do what feels like 10 times as much, though I didn't spend a penny more.

It's also nice when all your money doesn't go to no-fun stuff. That is for sure. Spending $2k less on the medical bills (this year over the past FOUR years - since we maxed out our deductible 4 years in a row) was absolutely divine. That was our vacation money - right there.

I suppose that this whole China thing will keep me in the same mindset. Except, I didn't think it was going to be very hard to come up with the money? BUT, I think we should just go into "pinch pennies for this big amazing once-in-a-lifetime trip" mode. It works for us.

Be Careful of the Scam Artists

December 20th, 2012 at 01:07 pm

Amid Newtown tragedy, scam artists creep in

http://news.yahoo.com/amid-newtown-tragedy-scam-artists-cree...

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I already noticed this because I at some point stumbled on some blog from someone who claimed to be close to one of the victim's families and who was raising money for said family. I didn't think too much about it (would not give money without more confirmation), BUT, then this person asked whoever else to comment who was also asking for money in regards to this tragedy.

I just cringed!! I knew the scammers would love some free publicity.

So, be careful. Don't believe everything you see or read. There are tons of scum out there trying to profit from this tragedy - there always is.

More Thoughts on Christmas Simplicity

December 18th, 2012 at 03:21 pm

**I feel redeemed this month in "making do with what I have." MIL brought me piles of gifts for my birthday and left us with all the white tissue paper. ??? So, I decided to just wrap gifts with that stuff. What the heck. What else am I going to do with it?

BM is wrapping up his big Mission project for school. Dh had him use the leftover foam board we had from his Halloween costume, in place of poster board. That works.

I feel relieved. Like we still have our mojo. It's been such a stark contrast to September when dh's Grandma was in the hospital. There was a week or two in there where I felt I went to the store 100 times and everything was completely out of control. It's like when one thing is *off* then everything goes *off* and it spirals out of control from there. IT was an endless parade of "I need this yesterday" and so forth with the kids. & dh was MIA, and we spent a bajillion dollars it felt like.

So, phew!! It's December and I'd prefer not to go near *any* store for a while.

BM was even asking for gloves for a school trip, and then told me nevermind that they can not wear gloves. Saved by the bell.

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I *loved* this post about keeping Christmas simple:

http://smallnotebook.org/2012/12/17/12-tips-easier-christmas/

& another one:

http://www.getrichslowly.org/blog/2012/12/17/resisting-the-h...

Spend, Spend, Spend

December 16th, 2012 at 04:21 pm

That's the theme over here!

**No doubt that winter is our murphy time. Though usually it starts in January. (Our last few Januaries were kind of insane - more on the medical side though). Of note, a computer broke (an unused one we don't plan to replace or fix at the moment). The vacuum needed more duct taping in other places. HA! More flamed duct tape... It's getting fancier by the minute. Wink

The worst is dh's beloved TV. Another high-end, well researched TV craps out after about 2.5 years. I am disgusted from an environmental standpoint (it's the technology, plain and simple. If you want something good - you can have good for only 2-3 years, apparently). We went round and round on this (discussing different strategies and so forth) and the latest is that we pre-ordered a TV from amazon. It is out of stock and so ships in 4-6 weeks. It is a 2013 expense. In the meantime we will consider other options. Dh seems resigned to the fact that what he wants is not long lasting, BUT his new strategy is to go with a bigger "TV" name brand. So we ordered a Samsung. I didn't think that Sony was a bad TV brand, but whatever. Might as well try something else. *I* actually pushed more for cutting our losses while we can maybe get some money for the old TV. & frankly, Dec or Jan is one of the best times of year to get a deal on a TV.

Definitely no final decisions. Of course the TV has been totally fine since we ordered a new one. HA! (But now we know it has serious issues and is on the fritz - so kind of a ticking time bomb).

I feel kind of *shrugs* about it, probably because we went so modest for Christmas. I am extra thankful about that now. We can easily afford it. So as annoying of an expense it is, it is probably the first time I felt we could really afford to buy a TV. So it's an interesting dynamic that it isn't annoying me at all on a financial level, though it is absolutely ridiculous to replace a TV every 3 years on average. I honestly have no trouble spending money that we can afford to spend though. & dh asks for little but having an awesome TV. It's what he wants - so it is what he gets. Just hoping whatever we do, the next one lasts a little longer...

{In contrast, I did not fully agree with these last 2 TV purchases, so they pissed me off more}.

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**In smaller spending news, I added my sister to the Christmas list. I saw something I thought she would really like AND she sent us a pile of gifts (which is unusual, but she just got a promotion and seems to be doing better than past years). So, spent $20 on her. I ordered some homemade items on Etsy and had them shipped to her. Easy Peasy!

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**After the first of the year I will be getting the kids' passports. Plans are starting to take shape for their European vacation this summer. The short version is that MIL wants to take all her grandkids "anywhere in the world, of their choosing" for their 10th birthdays. BM has chosen England. We have made it official. (She has been talking about this for well over a decade, before BM was even born, and so she must be SO excited that the day has come. & she also has 4 years of travel ahead of her, with four close-in-age grandchildren!)

I am extra pleased that MIL said that BM could invite his brother or cousin. So dh, the kids and I had a very serious talk about it last night. We wanted to strongly encourage the kids to invite each other on their trips, and thankfully they readily agreed.

I have a friend whose MIL did the same, but who passed on before she could take all the kids. It kind of ended up a disaster in her family. So, our take is kind of not to worry about my nieces, but I am so relieved that MIL offered to take both kids, so it kind of covers the worst case.

& finally, I think that BM will have so much more fun with his brother. I am sure he would have a great trip anyway, but to take his brother is just icing on the cake!

& hell yes, I am jealous! Big Grin

This & That

December 14th, 2012 at 03:12 pm

**LM has just enough lunch money to get through to the winter break. Which was the plan - but impressed how spot on I was. BM has extra because his lunches were initially more expensive (at the middle school location), but then they changed it back. Initially he told me his lunches were bigger, to boot. Which I did not mind because he is a ravenous high-metbaolismed child. But, all I can figure is they keep a separate middle school menu and were confused the first few days of school. They went back to charging the lower price - so he has an excess in his account. But not too much because I had told him he could not eat there as much at the higher price.

I will re-fund their lunch accounts January 1, for the rest of the year.

**I was hoping to save more, but learned I would only save $100 per year if I increased our home deductible to $5,000. Oh well. I just took it because I could not imagine making a claim for less than that. Ever. (Unless I wanted to be dropped and insurance-less). Our cash savings is getting to be robust, so it probably makes sense. We view all of our insurance as catastrophic - not to cover $1k, $10k or even $20k emergencies. I am worried about the six figure and seven figure emergencies. We probably should have always had the larger deductible.

**Christmas doings are done. LM's class sent a wish list for Christmas party and books were on the wish list! So we provided those (As were gotten for free). To be truthful, dh spent $0.56. He has calculator head. I am not wired the same way, though I love numbers. People stop me on the street and tell me about his calculator head. For that, $0.56, might have been off his game a bit. Wink {To clarify, he had a $100 voucher worth $125 worth of books - something like that - so he bought $125.56, and owed the $0.56 overage. There were times he owed pennies or a dime - which leads to random comments from others who have witnessed his shopping skill}.

Actually, I have done everything "Christmas" but still need to be reimbursed from the kids for their gifts. Maybe this weekend we will settle up and see if they have any cash for the bank.

**Dh is in pure heaven as he has found a new avenue to make money for his love of video games. The used music store, which for a while has also been heavy in video games, is now in the used book game. What they pay isn't bad compared to other book stores AND the credit can be used for video games and such. Dh cleared out our bookshelves and made some sales this week. He finally took in some really old books I had asked him to get rid of a while ago - I am surprised they were worth anything and pleased with the return. To be fair, 90% of his Scholastic earnings is going back to the teachers and the school, but he decided to grab some books for himself to sell. Will see how that pans out. I definitely have some more books he can sell, since I Was impressed with how he did with the "useless/who would want those?" books.

**This month has been extremely profitable on the extra income:

http://monkeymama.savingadvice.com/little-savings-add-up.html

We have already surpassed November's numbers.

Of note, our grocery store has re-arranged their rewards, which initially is making us wary. But, so far it has been *more* rewarding. Keep getting $5-off on almost every purchase. Gas rewards have been $1-off per gallon or 50-cents off, versus the usual quarter off per gallon. Woot! Plus we keep getting free stuff thrown in (useful things we would buy anyway, or could use). So far, I like!

**Oh, and American Express I am finding to be really "odd." They have not credited me any rewards for gas or groceries yet. They told me that current months' rewards show up on next months' statement. (I have *never* seen this before). THEN, since I Asked to move up the closing date, they decided to do like a 60-day cycle rather than give me a shorter cycle. Since they are doing such a long cycle, I am going to ask them if they can move up the date a couple of more days. I got the impression I can only do 3 days at a time or something. So, they really rather do 60 day cycles every time I ask? This is crazy. (I am going to pay my bill this month as if it were due - I pay the balance off monthly for all my cards). So, no rewards yet.

BUT, they did give me the new card $150 bonus. I redeemed it for a statement credit. When I Redeemed it they asked me a bazillion questions in the name of security. Rolleyes Seriously? Because I am trying to steal rewards from an account by redeeming them as a statement credit. Yeah, makes sense this would be an area rife with fraud? NOT?

So, American Express is weird. It will be nice when I get my rewards for the first 3 months.

Christmas Deals

December 9th, 2012 at 06:02 pm

My general goal is not to step foot into any retail establishment (& not to drive near any mall) for the entire month of December.

I am waiting for two presents to arrive in the mail so that we can wrap them.

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Deals of the past week:

--$5 off $25 Amazon purchase:

-PASS-


--$10 off $50 Target purchase:

We were going to stock up on cat litter and cat food and stuff to take advantage. BUT, at the last minute MIL asked dh if he could pick up a gift she forgot for the kids. She already reimbursed him the $40 for the $40 gift. He might of just picked up regular groceries to get to $50. That basically meant a free $10 for us - score!!


--$10 off $100 Amazon purchase:

I am passing on this one, and I think dh probably will too - but I reluctantly let him know about it just in case. Will see. Both these Amazon deals would have been nice a few days earlier!! Especially the $25 one, since I just spent $25 on Amazon a few days back.


--Groupon 40% Dragon tickets

Too late!!

This one was e-mailed to me *two* days after I bought the tickets. Rolleyes I would have been 10 times more annoyed if I had gotten them first thing in the morning, the night after I bought the tickets. The two day buffer pissed me off less - HA! {I looked, and we could have gotten essentially the same tickets - I looked hoping to see they were crappy seats or something - no such luck}.

Lesson learned: Next time I might delay ticket purchases and keep an eye on groupon, just in case. There was no rush to buying these tickets.

Anyway, reminds me that the Christmas/birthday season total seems to be $150 from my folks. If Florida Grandpa sends the usual, the Dragon tickets will be paid for. & since both my parents and Grandpa tend to do a "one check for the family" thing it's nice when we actually spent it on a family thing. More in the spirit of what they would want us to use it for. {I often just use it for Christmas bills or save it}.

Credit Card Rewards Update

December 8th, 2012 at 10:19 pm

Honestly, the credit card rewards were way higher than I realized this year. I haven't been keeping as close track. I actually mentioned earlier in the year I shredded absolutely *everything* one-time credit card reward - the paperwork was getting to be too much! But I very quickly pieced all this together between my blog (for gift cards) and Quicken (cash deposits). In addition, I know I received a few $10 or $20 gift cards here and there, but I did not track those carefully and so did not add these to the total.

FINAL TOTAL:

2012 TALLY:

$532 cash Chase Sapphire
$420 cash Chase (Chase Sapphire double dip*)
$150 cash Flagstar
$500 Amazon gift cards (Citi double dip*)
$250 Amazon gift cards
-$125 annual fee (Citi)
+$115 annual fee refunded when closed card
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$1842 TOTAL *ONE-TIME REWARDS*

+$ 600 deposit to ROTH (Fidelity Am Ex - 2% cash back)
+$ 25 cash back Fidelity Am Ex (bonus for some alternating category?)

+$ 95 Target rewards (5% discount Target purchases; mostly groceries)

+$ 68 Visa Rewards (1% cash back - for places that don't take AmEx - primarily dentist/insurance/utilities)

+$ 80 AmExRewards (6% cash back groceries/3% fuel - new card for 2 months only)
+$ 150 New AmEx (new card bonus)
-$75 annual fee on new AmEx
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=$2785 Total CC REWARDS 2012
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*double dips = rewards redeemed twice. We redeemed both these rewards in 2011 initially, and waited 12 months to redeem a second time, in 2012.

Year 2011 = $4164
Year 2012 = $2782

Total 2 Years = $6946
**Tax-Free Income!!**


Three more things:

1 - I have always always always utilized credit cards for rewards. No year in the past 20 years has come anywhere close to the years 2011 and 2012. I was maybe averaging $1000 cash back per year the few years prior.

2 - CAVEAT - I absolutely do not recommend utilizing credit card rewards in this manner, unless your credit is excellent, and you are in full control of your credit card spending. I can 100% honestly say I did not charge anything that I wouldn't have just paid for in cash otherwise. I am wired to treat my credit card as if it were a debit card, basically.

3 - The one-time rewards cards have all been cancelled and cut up. I generally close the cards right after I receive the reward.

Also, I suppose I should clarify that both my spouse and I have been utilizing these rewards, so have been able to double up significantly (versus if I were just single - we have both applied for several of the same offers. I also no doubt have many more expenses, supporting a household of 4 people versus just myself).

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What have we been doing with all this money? We advanced several months of ROTH contributions so that we are maxing out by 12/31 this year (versus taking out time until next April). We have paid down an extra $6,000 to our mortgage, as well. We have certainly splurged some of the rewards too, but I have no doubt our financial goals have gone very well in otherwise financially trying times, due to these significant windfalls.

In fact, at the end of 2010, I was thinking about getting some part-time or temp work. The bottom line has really been, "Why bother?" when I can make all this money with barely lifting a finger!?! It's been totally great timing for my family. My motivation to find a second job was to start paying down the mortgage more rapidly.

Crazy Week

December 6th, 2012 at 03:09 pm

**Before I forget, friend won a seat on the School District Board. Woot!! It took the county 30 days to count all the votes. We had a feeling for a while as votes rolled in, but nice to make it official.

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**Dh mentioned the new "Walking with Dinosaurs" type show - this time is a "How to Train Your Dragon" theme. He was working the public TV station when they were giving out the really expensive tickets. (Bummer, because on occasion we have gotten free tickets leftover - but not this time!) Anyway, he bemoaned how expensive they were and I said, "Um, did you look?" Seems there are always some cheap seats. The arena is literally within walking distance from our home, so besides the tickets should be absolutely of no expense to us.

Me and my big mouth!! Should have just let him think they were all crazy expensive.

We were eyeing the $30 tickets (which I doubt were bad seats), but waiting for the credit card to close so we could charge them this month and pay next month.

In the meantime, I received a unexpected $50 birthday check from my mom, and so decided we could use toward tickets. Then I later remembered Florida grandpa usually sends us $100 every year. I checked, and that is what he *always* sends us. & then my mom told me she had sent us a Christmas check. (My guess is another $100 - might get it today). I had forgotten Florida Grandpa $$ when thinking about Christmas, and my folks I suppose more regularly give us cash these days, but I am not used to it. So I didn't think about it and certainly didn't count on it!

We reviewed the tickets again checking different days hoping for cheaper tickets or more availability in more off times. It took a while, but I finally found the perfect seats. We ended up paying $62.50/each with fees and everything. We are about 5 rows behind the $200 seats and right next to the $100 "hot seats." We figured that was probably the best value. Actually, I think that is what we almost bought, but then we realized if we moved over about 10 seats we could just take the front row of the second tier (& have no head in front of us!!). Which puts us sitting right next to the $200 seats. I figure being one seat over can't be that much worse - ha.

DH took BM to the Walking with Dinosaurs when he was 4 and BM remembers it very fondly. I suppose it's pretty neat - really life-like dragons. Breathing fire and everything.

Every time I see a show I keep meaning to look into it but never do. I've been to the arena a few times, but never with my family. Which is fine - seems this stuff adds up fast. "Once a decade" is probably just fine!

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**When it rains it pours. Seems we have had lots of extra money trickle in the last week or so. I received a $15 insurance discount because my "rating" changed on my auto insurance policy, after renewal. I will take it - but for whatever reason I can not deposit it with my phone. This is the first check I have ever had a problem with. So I set it aside to deposit in person later.

**I redeemed $100 credit card reward to my ROTH this month. We have been averaging $50/month, but I suppose vacation and medical expenses pushed us over this month.

I got paid and made my regular ROTH contribution, and then double checked online what our contributions had been for the year. They were what I thought and as I planned, so, phew! My 1/1 paycheck will be advanced 12/31, and so I will make my final ROTH contribution at that time. Or I may do it sooner - with next paycheck. Knowing I will have that extra check and some Christmas money to pay the rest of the bills this month.

This may be the first time we ever maxed out by 12/31. I usually decide how much to put in with the tax returns, BUT, without a work retirement plan we are now focused on just maxing out - the sooner the better. Before the IRAs were more extra/gravy/tax breaks. & this way, if I feel tempted to move some over to a regular IRA for an immediate tax break - too bad. This way really makes sure we put it in our ROTHs and don't get tempted by a bigger tax break.

Next year we will work on maxing out even sooner in the year. As well as adding another $500/each with the higher contribution limits.

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**The crazy has begun at work. So I haven't been too bloggy!

Christmas Doings

December 1st, 2012 at 04:36 pm

I am glad I had such a wonderful beach weekend last weekend, and T-Day, because I have paid since. What a crazy week at work. Next week won't be any better - big IRS audit. I am frustrated about it on many levels. & in addition, because it has been so time consuming, I am very behind on everything. Which is not the worst because I See lot of December overtime pay for me. Woohoo. It's starting a little early, but just means more money for the mortgage. Big Grin

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I like the thankfulness posts that have been going around thanks to Paulette.

I think being thankful on a daily basis is a key practice to happiness and contentment. I practice this in my personal life, but feel it is kind of private. But wanted to chime in and share that.

I think people often think I am happy because I have a nice home and a good job and yadda yadda yadda. There is nothing special about having a nice home. I am every day grateful that I even have a home!! I am endlessly grateful for the opportunities we have and our kids have, that those before them didn't have. It's being grateful for the little things that keep us grounded.

No doubt that thankfulness also breeds contentedness. Our culture is so opposite though - it doesn't focus on gratefulness and contentedness. We all need more of this.

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I suppose this is may annual Christmas post.

I used to pride myself by doing all things Christmas before December.

Over the years it has gotten kind of moot. All our friends and family have stepped back and said, "We have all we need and don't want to exchange gifts any more." The exception is dh's parents and grandma, but they don't expect much from us. Dh goes in with his sister and sorts out the details, so I generally just write SIL a check. In addition, the in-laws give us tons of crap and money, so they pay for their own gifts (we use some of the money, and often return some of the gifts - either way it doesn't cost us anything).

Of course, we obviously could spend our time focusing on gifts from the heart. BUT, with my current job I mostly choose to sit out the holidays. Work is busy this time of year and so we focus on keeping it simple instead.

If not for my job, I'd probably be baking a lot of cookies and donating more money in people's names. I like to focus on more consumable items than piling on more of the materialism. I am sure we would spend a lot more time and effort on charity if it were a slower time of year for us.

This year is shaping up to be the most simple and least expensive Christmas I remember:

--Kids: Dh already bought a few gifts throughout the year. He will get free Scholastic books and has some "free" used games set aside for them. This year we did not get any spectacular gifts of any sort.

Teachers: Dh will get each teacher a $100 scholastic voucher. Free, in exchange for labor.

Gardener/Piano Teacher: I will bonus both $20.

Donations: We all choose a charity to donate $50 to every year. Last year was the first time the kids got to choose a charity - they LOVED it. (It doesn't have to be an official charity. If the kids wanted to hand $50 to a random person on the street or to a friend in need - anything that pulls at our heartstrings is fine).

Everyone else: If I see something for anyone in my family I just buy it for them, no matter what time of year. I bought my sister a few souvenirs in October. I actually bought my mom a couple of things in October. It is tradition to buy my dad almond roca every year. None of this stuff warrants a Christmas budget.

Work: My employer has gone the way of bah humbug over the years, like me! LOL. We used to do the Christmas party thing but it stopped at some point. We all prefer it that way. Phew!! We still do a gift exchange and a gift for the boss.

Boss will give me a $250 bonus, and I will contribute $50 towards his gift, from the bonus.

There is a woman in my office who is basically "me." LOL. I drew her name this year which means EASY to shop for. I was at Walgreens the other day waiting in line and saw Starbucks gift cards so picked up one for $15. My plan was to do that and maybe find a $5-ish gift on Etsy.

Reminds me, I don't regularly give gifts to anyone else, but can always find a uses for a regift. (Starbucks reminded me of that, because I don't drink coffee, but few people *get* that. That is something I always seem to have in my regift pile. & it sure makes people happy!)

So, to sum up, I have some Etsy shopping to do, and I am DONE!! & maybe an almond roca run at some point - easy to pick up anywhere and any time.

Budget? Christmas bonus covers boss gift and donations. Money/gifts from in-laws covers the $100-ish dh spends on them every year.

$60 total for co-worker, gardener and piano teacher. In-laws will basically cover this.

We bought some other gifts, but just absorbed in regular misc. budget items throughout the year.

Christmas Budget = $0.

**We always get a bazillion gift boxes to reuse, or use what we have around the house for wrapping, and we have a fake Christmas tree. Dh and I sometimes buy gifts for each other, but rarely. The fun has been kind of taken out of the "material gift giving" since he stopped working and all our accounts are joint. This year no gifts because we have gorged on credit card rewards heavily in recent years and don't want for anything in particular. The kids buy us and each other presents with their own money (since they have no expenses otherwise - to practice money management). 90% of our family's birthday is this month and next, so this covers most the gifts for the year, and could be why most the adults don't want MORE December gifts. We might enjoy all the gifting more if we could spread it out a bit! Kids excepted - they are rare summer babies.**